Athlete Spotlight – Kalyn Bedel: Defying the Odds
May 30, 2023 | Story by Alyssa Ross | Navy Wounded Warrior
WASHINGTON – Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kalyn Bedel joined the Navy for the most pragmatic of reasons: to help pay for college. She enlisted in the Navy in 2011 because she liked the idea of traveling across the sea. “I like the idea of a cruise, I guess,” she joked as she explained why she chose the Navy over other branches.
Serving as a corpsman seemed like an interesting and hands-on path that would give her some career training. “Turns out I’m good at practicing medicine.”
By June 2021, Bedel would switch roles from a medical provider to a patient. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer that affected the soft tissues in her head, face, neck, and chest. It’s rare and typically seen in pediatric patients.
Within a month she started treatments at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. Over the following 10 months, she underwent surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and survivorship care. Doctors did not have a great prognosis and suggested she had less than 10 percent chance of surviving. If she did, they weren’t sure what her quality of life would be.
“Thankfully, I was able to see some of the country’s top sarcoma specialists for care and went into remission. My Oncologist called my response a miracle. I am still today in remission,” she said.
When Bedel was first diagnosed, her medical team, LT Gretchen Kirk, CDR Sara Quan, and LCDR Patrick Reeves, referred her into Navy Wounded Warrior.
“They saw that I needed assistance and made sure I had all the best resources available to me. They are really diligent medical providers and truly steadfast and loyalty to their Sailors, Marines and other Shipmates.”
In Navy Wounded Warrior, Bedel found a support network to connect her with resources related to her diagnose and help managing things with her home command.
“LTJG Nelson, Ellyn, and Mr. Kiamba deserve all the accolades. I would be in a completely different place in life if it wasn’t for their continued support. NWW had made my transition into this new me a magnitude easier. It’s hard trying to tell others what you can’t do or why you can’t do it. Here, I don’t have to explain myself. I don’t feel less than the person I was, I feel new.”
The following summer, in August 2022, Bedel was well enough to volunteer as part of the medical crew during the Department of Defense Warrior Games in Orlando, Fla. She got to know the Team Navy athletes, as well as some of the coaches and support staff who participated in past Warrior Games. She was particularly inspired by Master Chief Raina Hockenberry, a previous enrollee who returned to active duty.
“I spoke to her about my medical journey and she encouraged me to try out. I look up to her, so I went to the camp in November as an athlete and really enjoyed it,” she said. “I’ve stayed involved not only for the sports, but my fellow athletes. They lift me up when I’m down and encourage me to push myself when I feel like I don’t have anymore.”
After being told she had a very low chance of survival or mobility following her diagnosis, Bedel jumped into adaptive sports with both feet. She attended every camp she could in the 2022-2023 season. At the 2023 Department of Defense Warrior Games Challenge, she will be competing in indoor rowing, shooting, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, and wheelchair rugby.
“Some people say, ‘Your trauma makes you strong,’ but it doesn’t. It made me weak, tired and sad. It turned me into a completely different person I didn’t know,” she said. “I made myself stronger, inside and out, with the aid of the adaptive sports program I’ve regained a new confidence.”
When she’s not participating in adaptive sports, Bedel is an Independent Duty Corpsman. She can see, diagnose, presecribe and treat patients independently from a doctor. She’s part of the Warrior Transition Department at Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command San Diego and spends her days at Camp Pendleton providing care for weapons field training battalion staff and their U.S. Marine Corps recruits.
“I enjoy being a medical provider. The biggest reason I want to continue my career in the Navy is them. All the people I’ve met and all the Junior Sailors I led, their triumphs, the times they persevered or met a goal… those are my ultimate career highlights.”
Bedel is hoping to stay active duty and continue her Navy career, but the future is still uncertain.
If she ever met someone facing her same circumstances, “I would tell them to stay positive. Even if you have a small chance, it’s still a chance. Hold onto that hope because, man, at times it’s going to be all you got. Through whatever challenges life throws at you, keep your head up. You got it. You’re a Warrior.”
About Adaptive Athletics
Fitness and teamwork are a way of life in the military. Serious illness or injury can profoundly impact that way of life, often confining a service member to a hospital bed and significantly altering their physical capabilities.
Adaptive athletics are sports that have been modified to meet the abilities of injured or ill individuals. They help wounded warriors build strength and endurance, while also drawing inspiration from their teammates.
All wounded warriors enrolled in Navy Wounded Warrior are encouraged to include adaptive athletics in their recovery plans to build strength and endurance. Sports also helps build self-esteem, lowers stress levels and prevents secondary medical conditions from developing.
If you are not already enrolled in Navy Wounded Warrior, contact us at 855-NAVY WWP/855-628-9997 or via email at email@example.com to determine your eligibility. Navy Wounded Warrior hosts a series of adaptive athletic reconditioning camps at naval bases throughout the country that focus on strength training, nutrition and a variety of sports. Active-duty athletes of all ability levels are welcome, with limited space for veterans. The program also involves enrollees in camps hosted by partner organizations and international competitions, such as the Invictus Games.
Numquam Navigare Solus – Never to Sail Alone
Sailors and Coast Guardsmen may self-refer to Navy Wounded Warrior, or be referred by a family member, their command leadership or their medical team. Contact the Navy Wounded Warrior call center at 855-NAVY WWP / 855-628-9997, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.